The Bulls have won more regular-season games than any other team since the beginning of last season. Their core is young and ascending. The chemistry on the court and in the locker room is impeccable -- the kind of environment coaches dream about. But the problem is that there is an awfully big hurdle perched in the sands of South Beach. Every transaction the Bulls make has to be a response to this question: Will this help us beat the Miami Heat?
The Howard-to-the-Bulls chatter certainly falls under the heading of "soft news," but nevertheless, the notion is interesting from a basketball perspective. Howard is the best center in the game, but Chicago is already a championship-level team. Do you dare mess with that?
Any trade Chicago might make for Howard would involve Joakim Noah going back to the Magic. Orlando would need a young center and Chicago would need to move Noah's dollars. There has been some confusion about whether Noah is subject to base year compensation, which would mean he could not be traded before March 1. According to the team, however, Noah is not a BYC player. That means he can be traded at any time.
Also, Orlando is going to want draft picks, expiring contracts, cost-controlled rotation players, cash and ready-made replacements for Howard. No team can fulfill all these needs; the Bulls can fulfill quite a few. In each of the subsequent scenarios, throw in Chicago's first-round picks in 2012 and '14, plus the valuable protected pick Charlotte owes the Bulls from the Tyrus Thomas trade, a selection that becomes unprotected in 2016, as well as $3 million in cash per the new CBA.
Lastly, the Bulls aren't going to break up a core that might already be good enough to win a title unless they get an ironclad assurance that Howard will sign long-term. So assume that Howard agrees to an extend-and-trade deal and isn't looking to maximize dollars. The win gains referenced in each scenario are set by our SCHOENE projection system.